The Berkman Center at Harvard University hosted a fascinating panel discussion figuring Amartya Sen, Michael Spence, Yochai Benkler and Clotilde Fonseca. The panelists addressed the role of communication and ICTs in human development, growth and poverty reduction. They discussed what has changed, been learned, not been learned, needs to be learned, needs to be done most urgently.
Some brief notes and take-away’s:
- Amatya Sen compared access to information via mobile phone to nutrition. Just like better nutrition may have adverse effects such as domestic violence, so does the mobile phone vis-a-vis the expansion of freedom. But this doesn’t mean we should abandon nutrition projects. Sen cautions against setting dichotomous priorities, e.g., development first or democracy first.
- Michael Spence explained that the mobile phone as an important input in the production function of an economy. One principal concern resulting from the incredible growth in the mobile phone network is that regulators may react strongly to regulate this growth. Spencer adds that there is no silver bullet in development.
- Clotilde Fonseca noted that the mobile phone is not yet a powerful device in the developing world; the distinction between voice and data is key. Most mobile phones in the developing world do not carry a high through-put of data. Clotilde cautions against applying a linear view of development to the ICT4D field. She adds that the digital divide is also a cognitive divide. There is also a capacity divide, i.e., the ability to absorb information.
- Yochai Benkler remarked that the mobile phone tends towards more decentralized communication. That said, the question is more decentralized relative to what? Benkler also notes that not all solutions here have to be mobile. He also foresees many new opportunities for entrepreneurship in decentralized technology ecosystem ripe with tools, training and services.
For a very good, more detailed summary, please see my colleague Kate Brodock’s blog post here.